The Maryland men's basketball team is only about a month away from starting play in the NCAA Tournament. Whether the Terps are a No. 1 or No. 4 seed, they'll certainly enter the opening weekend as a favorite to reach the Sweet 16 - and perhaps go farther than that.
With the better part of a week until the Terps play another game (on Saturday, against Wisconsin), it's a useful time to take stock of where the Terps are and where they're likely to go. This has been a beautiful mess of a college basketball season, with no team looking anything near unbeatable and giants falling to heretofore mediocre opponents all the time. To that end, I don't think many people would be surprised if Maryland lost to a No. 7 seed in the second round or ran the table and cut down the nets at the Final Four in Houston. That's the nature of this team and this season.
Bracket projections currently peg Maryland as roughly a No. 2 seed. With that in mind, I think it's also useful to look not just at who Maryland could play, but what kind of teams it could play, and what that might mean.
To beat Maryland, you've got to be able to score
The Terps have lost three times this season, all on the road to North Carolina, Michigan and Michigan State. Drawing on Ken Pomeroy's database, I've sought to identify common themes between these teams that have beaten Maryland.
The main theme: They're good. But, more than that, they're great on offense and safe with the ball.
The average opponent on Maryland's schedule this season (including in games yet to be played) ranks 64th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency. The teams that have beaten Maryland, on average, place seventh.
The teams that beat Maryland have a few things in common: They shoot, and they don't turn the ball over.
Coincidentally, in these teams' specific games against Maryland, it was all about offense. Check out how the Terps' three losses compare to the rest of their schedule in the opposition's offensive efficiency, via Pomeroy, as of Wednesday.
If you score, you can beat Maryland. But, for the record, no team has scored against Maryland at a rate any better than what's equivalent to the No. 22 offense in the country.
Beating Maryland is not, on its own, about offensive rebounding or forcing turnovers
One thing that doesn't seem to be a defining characteristic of teams that beat Maryland? Offensive rebounding ability. The Terps have at times been hammered this season on their own defensive glass, but the three teams to beat them are, on average, ranked No. 113 in the country in offensive board percentage. The whole schedule averages about 88th.
In the specific games between Maryland and the three teams to which it's lost, two of the three have featured bad Maryland rebounding efforts. Michigan State and North Carolina both rebounded more than 30 percent of their misses, but Michigan was actually one of Maryland's best defensive rebounding nights of the season.
Maryland's sometimes serious turnover problems also haven't been a hallmark of its losing efforts. The Terps did have their worst turnover game of the season at North Carolina, but they had their second-best against Michigan State and a middling showing there against Michigan.
So, the scary thing is a team that can mix scoring and rebounding
Offensive efficiency is by far the best indicator of a team that can beat the Terps. When teams score 1.12 adjusted points per possession against them, the Terps are 0-3. When they score fewer, the Terps are 22-0.
Here's a list of every team in the country with a plus-1.1-point-per-possession adjusted scoring average and a 33 percent-plus offensive rebounding rate. (These are arbitrary endpoints, but bear with me.):
Notre Dame, Duke, Michigan State, North Carolina, SMU, Oregon, Baylor, Kentucky, Butler, Arizona, Pitt, Indiana, Richmond, Davidson, Xavier, West Virginia, Houston, USC, UCLA, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, NC State, George Washington, Purdue, Hofstra, Louisiana Lafayette, Ole Miss.
The point of this exercise: A lot of teams have good enough scoring and rebounding ability to potentially frustrate Maryland in the right (or wrong, depending on your view) situation.
For what it's worth, here's that list parsed down by top-50 turnover-forcing teams:
West Virginia, Texas A&M, Louisville (whoops), Oregon, Villanova.
Or by top-51 turnover-avoiding teams (because there's no sense in not including a team one spot out):
NC State, Notre Dame, Duke, Butler, Georgia Tech, Richmond, George Washington.
These are the teams that can score, grab gobs of rebounds and win turnover battles. Louisville can't play in the NCAA Tournament, while Georgia Tech and Richmond probably won't qualify .
That leaves Oregon, Texas A&M, Notre Dame, Villanova, George Washington, Butler, West Virginia and, of all teams, Duke.
Maryland might win the entire thing this year and might lose to somebody else, but those teams have the the tools to be particularly tricky matchups.